The Best South American Hikes
South America is the fourth largest continent in the world. The continent consists of twelve sovereign states, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
This vast continent offers a wide variety of very different landscapes, including the Andes, the second highest mountain range in the world, the glaciers of Patagonia, Volcano treks in the mountains of Ecuador or even adventurous treks through the jungle of Columbia.
Even the easiest of hikes in South America are considered to be a test of endurance and you will need to be fit and well organized before attempting them to be sure you are able to enjoy all of the benefits of this wonderful area.
Ensuring you have the correct equipment and hiking gear is paramount before commencing any hike. But this depends on your reason for hiking. Some will take these opportunities to try new hunting grounds, in which case, you need to make sure you take your rifle and ammo.
Perhaps you want to test out some new outdoor gear to take your outdoorsman skills to the next level or simply love hiking and exploring new places?
Whatever the reason, you must remember to go well equipped.
The very basic of hiking gear includes good shoes / boots, at least a day pack for short treks, appropriate clothing for whatever weather you may encounter and plenty of water or water purification tablets.
Always check what accommodation is on offer in the area of your hike.
Fitz Roy Trek, Patagonia
Fitz Roy Trek, Patagonia, Argentina is considered to be a difficult hike which can take between 5 or 10 days to complete, and the best time to attempt this hike is between October and April.
Camping equipment will be needed, particularly a good warm sleeping bag for the icy cold nights. There are several routes to choose from beginning in El Chalten and taking you past Cerro Fitzroy, one of the tallest mountains in Patagonia, and Cerro Torres.
There are many day hikes in the area but the longer ones give the opportunity to enjoy the extraordinary landscapes of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, with views of glaciers and snow summits. The Humuel Circuit travels across a beautiful but difficult terrain, with views of the Southern Ice Fields.
There are many rock climbing spots and short detour hikes which can keep you busy for days. There is also the Fitzroy Loop which is a 10 day trek, but must only be attempted with a guide, giving you a great opportunity to fully explore the valley.
Bolivia - Huayna Potosi
Huayna Potosi is only 25 kilometers from Bolivia’s capital La Paz. It is recommended you spend a few days acclimatizing before attempting the 6000 meter altitude hike.
Huayna Potosi is considered to be one of the more challenging hikes that can be attempted in South America and one of the only few accessible routes to allow you to summit an Andean Mountain.
The trek is popular with backpackers as it is easily accessible and easy to book the two day trip with adventure companies in the city. A good head for heights and technical rock climbing is needed to be able to reach the peak. This trek needs to be taken seriously as altitude sickness can be a problem.
Huayna Potosi is considered to be one of the few mountains over 6,000 meters that ‘normal’ people can climb. The ascent up a glacier is said to be a moderate climb, which becomes steeper as you near the peak.
On the first night you will camp at an altitude of 5,200 meters before rising extremely early, usually between midnight and 3am, to make a summit attempt.
The trek to the peak should take around 5 hours, and the views from the top are extraordinary, and where you can see Lake Titicaca, La Paz and the Cordillera Reel.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil
People don’t often associate Brazil with hiking, but it does in fact offer one of the best hikes in South America.
The starting point for this hike is Vale do Capao (Bahia) and the Chapada Diamantina route takes you across the plateau topped mountains, through rich green forests, waterfalls and crystal clear lagoons in underground river caves.
You will pass by the tiny ghostly village of Ruinha and through the damond-era stone ruin of Igatu.
The view across the valley is of Cachoeira da Fumaca, Brazil’s highest waterfall. The trek means ‘diamond cliffs’ in English, indicating how this area was part of the diamond rush in the 1800’s.
The W Trek, Torres del Paines
The W Trek, Torres del Paines, Patagonia, Chile - This 4 day 80km route, through Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park, is named after the ‘W’ shape of the route. There is also a longer route which can take nine days and which covers an entire loop of the park.
The starting point for the trek is Punta Arenas, which is the most southern city in the world and to get there is a mission in itself by bus or plane to the 46th State of Chile.
Although difficult to get to it is well worth the effort, the views are amazing. The park is only open from early spring to early autumn, and the weather can be unpredictable so ensure you pack for all weathers.
During the four day hike there is the option to camp or stay in mountain lodges. Many people like to camp at the base of ‘Torres del Paine’ (the famous towers) so they can see them in all of their glory at sunrise.
Ciudad Perdida, Lost City Trek, Columbia
The intriguing sounding ‘Lost City of Columbia’ was undiscovered by the Western World until the 1970’s.
This ancient Lost City is only visited by a handful of tourists, compared to the many who visit Machu Picchu. The city was built between the 8th and 14th centuries by the Tayrona Indians, but only circular stone terraces remain.
The trek can be completed in four or five days, and will take you through rainforest, streams, rivers and finally to the entrance of the Lost City. There is some steep hiking on the trail, some swimming in the river, and even the opportunity to splash in beautiful waterfalls.
There is also the possibility you may meet the indigenous Kogi Tribe of people who have been living a traditional way of life in this area for thousands of years.
Valley of the Volcanoes and Cotopaxi Volcano Ecuador
A most popular tour from Ecuador’s capital Quito, hike through the famous ‘Valley of the Volcanoes’, but it must be said that not many people actually summit the peak.
The best time to attempt this hike is between November and February, and the trek can be booked in the city and usually begins by spending a night at Cotopaxi National Park, at a height of 4,500 meters.
The hike usually takes two days. Layered clothing is recommended for the fast altitude changes.
The hike is a tough ascent which gives amazing views of the surrounding landscape. Most of the trail is above the snow line but if you plan your hike in the dry season there is more chance of reaching the summit.
The trek is still considered more than worthwhile even if you don’t reach the summit. As Cotopaxi is active the park will close if any activity is detected with the volcano.
Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
The best time to attempt this hike is between March and October. It is possible to attempt this hike without a guide but you will need to organize a boat to go up the river.
You will also need to register with the park rangers, and perhaps ask for their advice and a map! Kaieteur Falls is one of the few places that tourism hasn’t reached and the park only allows a few thousand visitors every year.
The trek will take you along well used paths, through junge and local villages where accommodation is on offer. The trail ends at Kaieteur Falls, which is one of the world’s biggest single drop waterfalls.
Guyana has the most breathtaking natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage, you may be lucky to spot a puma, red howler monkey or even the spectacular toucan.
Salcantay, Machu Picchu Trek, Peru
This particular trek is legendary and is known to be the best way to tackle Machu Picchu from Cusco, instead of the original ‘Inca Trail’ which usually has to be booked six months in advance and is guaranteed to be very expensive. This trek is named after Salcantay Peak, which means ‘savage mountain’.
This is a fantastic glacier encrusted peak in the Cordillera Vilcabamba which has a large variety of different landscapes. Most days you will spend about 8 hours trekking before camping in tents.
You will hike through hilly terrain, deep snow on the high Salcantay mountain pass, lush tropical rainforest and if you are lucky enough will be able to experience a visit to the hot springs.
Totally refreshed to begin a day walking along a river and railway track to the tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes. The final day usually begins at approximately 4am ready to complete the final part of your hike, in the dark, to Machu Picchu.
You will I am sure feel very proud of your five day hike to see this amazing view of the sun rising over the ruins of the magical lost city.
Summit Trek to Mount Roraima, Venezuela
This hike can take up to eight days to complete the journey to Mount Roraima in Venezuela.
Begin by hiking the flat Venezuelan Savannah toward the Kukenan River where you will reach the sheer rock wall marking the upward slope to Mount Roraima, which is the tallest table top mountain in the Gran Sabana and the natural borders between Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
The towering peak which is just under 10,000 feet above sea level offers amazing views of Venezuela’s dense jungle, valleys, lagoons and cascading streams.
If you are planning a hike with a tour, camping and cooking equipment is provided. Most tours rent sleeping bags, so perhaps take a liner, or your own sleeping bag, and it is always advisable to carry water purification tablets.
If you plan a hike without a guide ensure you check out what accommodation and facilities are available.